Caregiver Stress Syndrome and Self Care: A tribute to Care Givers.


This is a special salute to all Caregivers.  These selfless human beings that I call Angels, are loving, compassionate, and above all, consider others way beyond themselves, usually putting their needs at the bottom of the list. The sad thing, though, is that Caregivers are seldom acknowledged for the great service they render to mankind. No compensation of any kind could ever repay the work these Angels do. So, whether we are taking care of our children, the sick, our elderly parents, or in whatever area of caregiving we have been called to serve, just know that ours is a special calling that God alone shall compensate, and in due season, we shall surely reap our reward well pressed down, shaken together and overflowing, for planting the seeds of selflessness.

We all first encounter an amazing Caregiver when we are small, in the form of our mothers. God bless these Angels! There are different categories of Caregivers: family Caregivers who usually take care of family members such as children – with or without special needs – the elderly, the sick or terminally ill, and may include diseases such as cancer, accidents, mental illnesses, alcoholism, and any other conditions that may arise. Family Caregivers are not usually paid, because they become Caregivers by default, either when their elderly parents require the service, or the sick family member has no one else to take care of them. The other category is Caregivers who get paid to offer their services and usually work in institutions: This includes nurses, certified nursing assistants and other direct support staff. In my own way, I include doctors in this list because I believe they are the first in the line of care giving.

Caregiving is a 24 hour service. If we ever got admitted to hospital or any other setting where the sick or otherwise challenged individuals get accommodated, we definitely got attended to by a Caregiver. Caregiving is the only calling I know, that goes contrary to the commandment: “Love thy Neighbor As Thyself”, because most Caregivers put their needs at the bottom of the list as they are consumed by the need to care for others and will usually neglect themselves and are guilty of caring for themselves. Yet, to be effective in caregiving, it is important for the Caregiver to love and care for themselves first, because one cannot care for another if they are unwell.

Caregiver Stress or Caregiver Stress Syndrome is something I came across by chance on one of my quests for knowledge. Research shows this is a condition that is characterized by stress, poor emotional health, physical and mental exhaustion. Irritability, anger, bad mood, change in sleep patterns, poor eating habits and even depression are also noted to affect Caregivers. A number of factors are considered to lead to Caregiver Stress, such as the constant demands that accompany the care; failing to set boundaries even when one realizes the role is too much for them; believing that no one else can give the care required; failing to ask for help when feeling overwhelmed, because most Caregivers do not want to overburden others and believing no one would be willing to assist. Those taking care of loved ones at home may be overburdened by financial constraints; feelings of helplessness as they watch their loved ones’ health deteriorate and being unable to be in control of the situation; fear of losing their loved ones; the need to do household chores or run errands.

Research also shows that Caregiver Stress Syndrome can lead to diseases like diabetes, cancer, heart disease, arthritis, depression, high blood pressure and a compromised immune system, among others. Not to say that they suffered from it, but I know of nurses who just collapsed and died while on duty, and yet others who ‘suddenly’ got terminally ill.

The important thing to understand as Caregivers is that our health comes first, above that of anyone else. If neglecting the loved ones in our care would be considered abuse, neglecting oneself is much more detrimental. Just because we do not have someone watching over us to ensure we do the right thing, should not be an excuse for self-neglect; we owe it to God, to our families, to ourselves and to the universe to take good care of our bodies and our health; after all, we only have one body and if we mistreat it to the point of poor health, we will only have ourselves to blame, and sometimes the damage done might be irreversible.

Working hard to make a living while we are still strong is a good thing, but with a little extra planning, we can make all the money we want, and still take good care of ourselves. It might just take a short 20 minute break to take a walk, or waking up slightly earlier to meditate or do some exercises, share a laugh or just talk to a friend, but that positive energy can do lots of good for the soul of the Caregiver. For those who may not be very eager to exercise, investing in a Whole Body Vibration machine might help keep that blood circulating much better. Remember, going the extra mile to give ourselves self-care might mean the difference between a healthy life and spending weeks, months, or even years in a lonely hospital bed, building castles on the ceiling.

Other things that could help us along may include: Using a diary to organize and prioritize tasks; asking for help and/or seeing a therapist when feeling overwhelmed and understanding that nothing has to be done ‘our way’ because it doesn’t have to be perfect; admitting that we are tired and need a break; joining a Caregivers’ Support Group either online or in the neighborhood; outsourcing jobs like house cleaning or cooking; venting out frustrations to a friend; understanding that it is OK to be frustrated – even angry – for being unable to control the situation at hand, and also forgiving ourselves for being angry/frustrated, and remaining positive as much as possible. The important thing is to gauge our internal steam, realizing the extent to which we can tolerate the heat, and taking appropriate measures to avoid boiling over or bursting open. When we are tired, frustrated, irritable or angry, we emit toxic energies to the loved ones we are meant to be taking care of, and this then becomes counterproductive. To be effective in caregiving, we need to be vibrant, positive and happy, so as to provide the warm and caring support that we ought to give.

Though sometimes it may not be possible, getting lots of sleep, keeping well hydrated and eating healthy meals all improve our overall health. Depending on the situation, getting meals delivered, getting a Day Care or a visiting home health nurse, asking friends, family or church members to help out can go a long way in providing a much needed break. If still in employment and one has a loved one to take care of, it might pay off explaining one’s circumstances to the employer and finding out what relief could be afforded in terms of paid leave or other opportunities. The main thing is to communicate to others who can potentially assist, because no one person can do all the caregiving there is to be done, for any one person.

Communicating to or involving others already providing care for our loved ones, like other caregivers, doctors or other professionals and letting them know what is going on and getting them to understand we need breaks, assists to avoid misunderstandings and can sometimes translate to additional help from sources not thought of before. It is true that as Caregivers sometimes we feel the need to remain in control, but there is nothing to be ashamed of in admitting that we need help, because we are human, after all.

I am a strong believer that our bodies talk to us, and that the Universe constantly communicates to us what we need to do if we can only be alert enough to what is going on around us.  I recently come across a video that appeared to be talking to me directly on self-care, but had almost dismissed it completely, thinking that I did not need self-care.

A few days later, my body completely refused to go on at the pace I had been, without a break. I had been working 16-hour shifts for 3 days a week, and for 2 days of the week I did 24 hour shifts, leaving me with 2 days of rest, but these were the days I needed to do my errands, clean the house and attend to other personal matters. So, really, I was not getting any time to rest. My body ached with every move and every breath. I was so sick, yet I could not exactly pinpoint the problem. I sat down for supper, and to my great surprise, it was midnight when I woke up to find my plate of cold food besides me by the sofa where I had sat down to enjoy the food. It was a struggle dragging my feet to the kitchen sink. I had a continuous buzz in my head and my eyelids hardly opened, forcing me to tilt my head slightly backwards for my eyes to peep through the tiny openings that my eyelids allowed. My shoulders carried a very heavy, yet invisible weight and my joints were non-compliant, making the urgent dash to the bathroom that I so badly needed, an impossibility. Somehow, I had ended up on top of my bed where I found myself the following morning, still fully dressed. Maybe I should have hearkened to that video.

For my “me time”, I went to have my nails done. Not an exaggeration, but when I looked at my fingernails they resembled small drum sticks, and the cuticles were seriously fighting for space to escape from my nails. Poor nails!  I could see the deep regret on the nail technician’s face as she prepared the water to soak my hands in, knowing what a job she had ahead of her. I could not recall the last time I had been to a nail salon, but I decided this was a new beginning for me. The experience after the manicure and pedicure was life giving, as was the Epsom salt bathtub soak later that evening. My body sprung back to life, but I decided to take a day off the following day, just to sleep in and relax. It was very rewarding.

It is OK to reward ourselves for taking the courage and time to pamper ourselves. A verbal, mental or in front-of-the-mirror appreciation of ourselves; buying that dress we always thought we couldn’t afford; getting that massage; going out to watch that movie; meeting up with friends for an outing; lazing about at the coffee shop sipping on something we love or just anything that we enjoy away from the usual environment, helps us to relax and revamp before the next working bout. And, if we notice a Caregiver that needs help, reaching out is one of the best things that we could ever do.

Finally, remember taking care of one another and ourselves is taking care of the Universe, because we are all one.

It is still a beautiful world, strive to be happy.

Susan Wambui

Senior Columnist

Kenyan Parents in USA

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